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Umpires discuss a call at first base (Julie Jacobson/AP)
Umpires discuss a call at first base (Julie Jacobson/AP)

JEFF BLAIR

Blair: Dumbing down baseball with more instant replays Add to ...

Thank goodness we still have balls and strikes. For now.

The inevitable march toward the dumbing down of Major League Baseball continued Thursday, when the usual unanimous vote of 30 passed expanded use of instant replay in time for the 2014 season.

Baseball managers, players and fans will now have a greater degree of certainty and, most likely, a longer game. Welcome to the era of the 5 1/2-hour World Series game; welcome to the era of even more advertisements for Fox Broadcasting’s prime-time lineup, along with a bunch of consumer products you likely don’t need. Think of the marketing possibilities: “This replay is brought to you by Pepto-Bismol, when twice is one time too much.”

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The decision to expand the scope of replay was a given the second baseball allowed the use of video for disputed home runs in 2008. So it’s no surprise that, starting in spring training, the umpiring crew chief will have the freedom to initiate the review of any close play from the seventh inning onward. Using a designated communication area near home plate, the crew chief and at least one umpire will have access to a hard-wired headset connected to a replay command centre in New York.

MLB estimates 90 per cent of all plays will be deemed reviewable – home runs, ground-rule doubles, boundary calls, fan interference, fair, foul and trapped balls in the outfield, and hit-by-pitches.

Forced plays at second base and obstruction plays will not be reviewable, and all replays will now be allowed to be shown on ballpark scoreboards – the latter finally bringing to an end an unnecessary sop to the umpires’ union. Each ballpark will have 12 standard camera angles for the purposes of review.

And so we bid adieu to so much of the fodder for the discussion and debate that separated baseball from other sports that possessed an almost anal-retentive need for certainty.

We welcome the sphincter-tightened NFL generation with open arms; you will find shelter now in our ballparks, and not have to worry about things such as using your own insights, powers of intuition and brains. We’ll just call up a guy in New York for you! It will be all neat and tidy!

I could live with this, to be honest, if it was left in the hands of the crew chief. Close play? Go to the command centre.

But baseball has gone further and will allow team managers the right to challenge at least one play per game, with a second challenge awarded if the first is correct and provided the manager pops out of the dugout to challenge in a “timely manner” – the definition of which ought to be fun in a game that has never enforced existing rules about time between pitches.

Each team will have personnel in the clubhouse monitoring the replays, and will be allowed to advise the manager on a call. (If you think the Man in White at the Rogers Centre was a nifty conspiracy theory, wait until this thing craps out.)

If it’s really about getting a decision right, it’s enough to leave it in the hands of the umpires – especially since the proper, accurate use of review would likely be part of their grading system or awarding of postseason assignments. It would be easy to make it financially rewarding for umpires to use the new weapon correctly. Giving managers a challenge is so NFL.

At least the hidebound among us can take solace from the fact MLB commissioner Bud Selig has shown a deft touch when it comes to tweaking the game. Barring some unusual ham-handedness in dealing with New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez, it must be said Selig is retiring with something of a flourish.

Follow me on Twitter: @GloBlair

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